CAIRO: What started as a slander case against famed Egyptian poet and columnist Ahmed Abdel Moeti Higazy seems to have snowballed into an all-out confrontation between Sheikh Youssef El Badry and a number of prominent Egyptian writers.
The case was prompted by an article written in 2002 by Higazy in the weekly Rose Al Yousef magazine in which he likened El Badry to members of the Jewish Shass political party, who are stern supporters of the establishment of a theocratic Israeli state.
“If anyone believed the things that were said in that article about me, I could have ended up in prison, El Badry told Daily News Egypt.
Members of the Shass party have been known to harass women who do not dress conservatively and even attack magazine shops that don’t strictly sell religious literature, adding to El Badry’s provocation.
“This is a very old battle which began with my assertion that Egypt should fully implement Sharia, El Badry said.
Many intellectuals believe that the implementation of Sharia would transform Egypt into a puritanical theocratic society similar to Saudi Arabia, where a person found guilty of stealing would have his arm mutilated. They see this as a step backward to the Middle Ages.
El Badry was also responsible for the case against Islamic researcher Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid in 1997, where the court ruled that the scholar be separated from his wife because his ideas make him an apostate, which forced the scholar into self-imposed exile in Holland where he currently resides.
“This man [Abu Zeid] was spreading these ideas at Cairo University and he was supposed to be a teacher of religion, so I adopted the case. This case frightened some people who see me as an enemy of intellectuals, El Badry said.
In this latest case, El Badry was able to win LE 20,000 in compensation for Higazy’s remarks and when Higazy refused to pay out of principal, El Badry secured a court order to confiscate Higazy’s furniture.
Higazy reacted to the repossession of his belongings by making a legal claim that the furniture belonged to his wife. If the court rules in favor of Higazy next September, El Badry plans to sue the magazine that published the article.
Despite his clear Islamist voice, El Badry disassociates himself completely from the Muslim Brotherhood or any organized group or body.
“The Brotherhood says that Islam is the solution, this is a slogan that can work in a Western society where people don’t know about Islam. I, on the other hand, advocate the implementation of Sharia, Badry said.
El Badry’s latest list of legal adversaries include author and chief editor of Akhbar El Adab (Literary News) Gamal El Ghitany, author and managing editor of the same publication Ezzat El Qamhawy, Al Ahram daily’s editor-in-chief Osama Saraya and legal rights activist Nasser Amin.
In their columns, the targets of El Badry’s lawsuit had defended Higazy.
El Badry says that he was never given the opportunity to respond to Higazy’s article despite his many pleas to the editor, something Higazy adamantly refutes.
“It is a fact that if a person’s name is mentioned in an article, that person has the right to defend himself by writing another article in response. His false claim that he was not allowed to respond represents an accusation against Egyptian journalism as a whole, Higazy told Daily News Egypt.
Higazy does not rule out the fact that Badry’s motives may be political in nature.
“We live at a time when the Egyptian opposition is concentrated on the Muslim Brotherhood and this organization is trying to win over public opinion by appearing to be an opposition force that is a credible, democratic, representative of Islam. And because they are a banned organization they need voices similar to that of Sheikh El El Badry to spread their message, Higazy said.
According to Higazy, El Badry is against modern Egyptian culture, which is strongly centered on objective thinking and the concept of a social contract between the government and its citizens.
“They are fighting this culture that views religion as a private matter between the man and God, a culture that sees religion and government as two separate realms, Higazy said.
On August 12, Gamal El Ghitany wrote an article criticizing the libel law that facilitated the repossession of Higazy’s furniture.
“The law is very tractable and classifies many expressions as slander and libel. If you ask my personal opinion of what Higazy wrote, I would tell you that it was simply descriptive, El Ghitany told Daily News Egypt.
El Ghitany feels that El Badry’s actions are a tangible threat to Egyptian intellectuals because they foment the kind of mentality that “attacked novelist Nagiub Mahfouz.
In 1994 Muslim extremists almost succeeded in assassinating the 82-year-old Nobel Laureate by stabbing him in the neck outside his Cairo home
“He [El Badry] represents a phenomenon. Intellectuals are targeted by religious extremists. They want to terrorize the voices that can confront them intellectually in our society, El Ghitany said.